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Blackduck High School students win solar panel contest

On top of graduating, four Blackduck High School seniors -- Ryan Dobmeier, Tyler Wentworth, Lucas Richardson and Corey Stultz, have something to be proud of -- they built a solar panel for a contest and won.

The contest was funded with a grant from the University of Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams. According to Dan Evans, a contest coordinator, the project had two phases.

The first phase began in March. Area schools were invited to take part in a solar energy education project, where participating schools arranged teams to research, design and build a passive solar air heater, meaning there can be no moving parts involved. Guidelines were provided to each school and they were given $300 for materials.

"Blackduck's team actually stayed considerably under the $300 limit," said Rick Olhava, who served as Blackduck's faculty advisor for this project.

The criteria for judging the panels centered around which unit produced the most heat.

Originally, Blackduck, Bemidji, Cass Lake and the Bug School were scheduled to participate, however, only Blackduck and Bemidji submitted their completed solar heaters by the May 7 deadline. The heaters were judged at solar product manufacturing company, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance's headquarters in Pine River. The two panels were placed in direct sunlight for four hours, measuring the amount of heat each unit produced to determine the winner.

Blackduck won the contest and their design, along with comments offered by RREAL engineers, are being used to construct four more solar heaters at Camp Rabideau which is phase two of the project.

Because Blackduck won the contest, their design is the second phase of the project. Their solar model will be used as a template to design four more solar heater units that will be built by kids who are participating in one of Camp Rabideau's summer youth programs.

"During this phase, the youth learn about solar energy through hands-on experience," Evans said. "They will build four more units which will be incorporated into a small building that will serve as a 'solar furnace', to store the heat produced by the solar heaters to supply a greenhouse with supplemental heat during cold weather months. The kids will build this as well."

Olhava said the four seniors really enjoyed working on the project.

"The boys got excited about this and really took pride in their work," Olhava said. "They were very proud of themselves."

When starting the project, Olhava's team submitted four designs they had researched. After reviewing the designs, the model they picked seemed to make the most sense. From then on, the construction of the project began.

"Most of the time the boys spent on this project was research," Olhava said. "The actual construction didn't take as long as the preparations for it did."

Currently, the second phase of the project is in the early stages of designing the solar units in smaller, pilot models at Camp Rabideau. Eventually, the four units will be built into the solar furnace building.